Day 8 - Saturday, April 20, 2013 - Tour of Brussels with European Union, Manneken Pis, and Grand Place; Time on Our Own in the Afternoon.
Somehow the hotel’s automatic wake-up call system was not working but luckily we always set our own alarm clock – just in case… Many of our fellow travelers had to hustle to get up and out on time this morning.
Before breakfast we talked to the desk clerk about the broken bed in our room, 206. Instead of repairing the bed, she gave us a new room on the 8th floor with a wonderful view of our section of the city.
We hurried to move our things and then at 9:00 we met Dimitri, our Brussels city guide. While Michael negotiated traffic, Dimitri gave us the history of this commercial crossroads and now the capital of Europe.
Traveling through the patchwork of small neighborhoods, we saw a very clean city, laid out with wide streets. Trams run on the tracks in the middle with cars and buses in the motor traffic lanes. There are hardly any bicycles in the city.
Our first stop for a brief photo was the Royal Neighborhood to see the Office of the King. The Belgian Flag flew over the palace, a sign the King is in Belgium.
Not many people were out this early so we had the streets to ourselves for about 30 minutes. Most people do not work on Saturdays. Rents are steep in Brussels and so is the total cost of living in the city.
Wages are not as generous as in some progressive EU countries, but Dimitri said one can make a decent living. However, taxes are the highest in the EU - including social security - 57.3% for a single earner.
The day began at 43° with bright blue skies and a few white fluffy clouds. The wind was brisk but we have been so lucky with the weather, we were not complaining. The trees were blossoming and many gardens had daffodils and tulips decorating this old city.
The World’s Fair or Expo was here in 1958, a time of hope and rebirth for all of Europe. We drove out of town to the Expo site to see the Atomium, an element of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. Escalators in the connecting tubes take people to office buildings, restaurants, and other exhibit halls.
We made a brief “technical” stop at the Museum Center. Dimitri apologized for the lack of clean restrooms in Brussels. Even locals have problems finding proper facilities at a civilized cost. In a town of so many beer halls, “going” on the street risks a 100€ fine.
At the Grand Place, the Old Historic Center, we saw the medieval Guild Houses, regulating the trades of those times. These structures were bombed by the French in 1695 but rebuilt in the splendor and glory of the 15th century.
We made our way to see the most famous citizen of Brussels, the Mannekin Pis, a tiny statue of a naked boy urinating in the fountain. He is dressed in costume; a different one several times a week.
Today there was a reunion celebration of the French Foreign Legion. Instead of water, wine was flowing and the Legionnaires offered us a taste of sausage and a glass of wine to help them celebrate. We talked to several of the men who had served in North Africa. What a unique opportunity to get to know people from other generations and other countries!
We thanked Dimitri at the end of the tour and left the group to explore on our own. Nothing was planned until tomorrow morning. We strolled the narrow medieval streets and had plenty of time to take photos.
Sitting outside in the warm sun, we had a sandwich and then walked to Gaufre de Bruxelles for dessert – a sweet Belgian Waffle. One of the specialties is with fruit, whipped cream, and ice cream. Gennie added chocolate to hers!
The afternoon went quickly as we walked all the way back to our hotel. We should have been wearing the pedometer today. We would have been pleased to have walked off a few of those waffle calories.
There was plenty of time to reorganize our room, look at the photos, and write the journal for the day.
Our hotel is located in an area where there are many restaurants and small cafés. We had lots of options for a light dinner and chose Vietnamese.
Accommodations: Thon Hotel Bristol Stephanie - - - Meal: B - - Rating: A-
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Love your HDR of Atomium. Did you go inside? Not necessarily as exciting as the outside. They had a cement/concrete exhibition when I was there last year.